By Parker Millar
April 20, 2009 will mark the anniversary of one of the darkest events in my generation’s collective memory. On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado walked through the double doors with guns drawn, bent on murder. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and one teacher, wounding 24 others in the process. In the end they took their own lives, rather than face the consequences of their actions.
At the time, the Columbine Shooting shocked the nation; however, since then there have been numerous other incidences involving kids with guns at schools. The most recent of which involved Seung-Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student who killed 32 people and wounded many others before he took his own life.
The problem has gotten worse and it won’t get any better unless people start to do something about it. Some people blame gun control, violent media or lack of parenting, but all these factors are symptomatic. If we want to attack the root cause of this issue we need to confront the issues relating to the isolation of people who don’t fit into a social norm.
There is a process in biology called cellular apoptosis, or programmed cell death. If you’ve ever laid in bed for longer than a day or been hospitalized for any extended period of time you may be familiar with the concept.
Basically, when a cell in the human body decides that the function it performs is no longer necessary, that cell kills itself.
Abstract this concept and think about society as a sort of superior organism of which we are all cells. A common psychological ailment in our society is an individual who feels like they simply don’t fit in, no matter what they do. They are constantly rejected in social settings and have a hard time keeping friends. With this deep state of psychological alienation in mind, it is not unreasonable to assume that such a person would start to go through the same process in relation to society that the cell does in relation to the human body.
Social outcasts become withdrawn, misanthropic and angry with their peers, who seem well adjusted and “popular” by contrast. They figure their best option is to take out one last act of vengeance upon the society that has rejected them before completing their apoptosis.
The advent of Instant Messaging, Facebook and Texting, coupled with the seeming omnipresence of cell phones and the internet, have probably fed into the isolation and alienation that so many members of our generation deal with on a day to day basis. We don’t talk to each other unless it’s through the medium of technology, and even then we’ve become passive aggressive internet hermits. When you can get anything you need on the internet, why would you want to go outside and talk to a real person? The internet is seemingly endless source of news, information and distraction, but we can’t let our newfound technology replace good old-fashioned human communication. When was the last time you smiled and waved at a fellow student who wasn’t your “friend” on facebook? Or written a letter to a professor instead of sending an email? Or even used a phone that was plugged into the wall?
It’s true that the effects of technology often are not felt until sometime after the technology becomes widely used. We are seeing the effects of social isolation due to dependence on new technologies that, by their very nature, isolate us.
There are few members of the popular culture that have addressed the growing concern about isolation among the youth due to the increased dependence on new technology. Of those that have, I believe Oklahoma psychedelic rockers “The Flaming Lips” have made the most poignant statements about the growing influence of technology on society and the consequent isolation of individuals.
On their breakthrough record, 2003’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” the Lips sing of a hero that will rise up and free society from “those evil natured robots, programmed to destroy us.”
I’m issuing a personal challenge to the greater campus of Western Carolina University. Be Good to Each Other. Talk to people about your problems-there’s always someone there who will listen, whether they be an RA, a professor or a roommate. We have the potential to be the generation that saves the world from what it is becoming, but if we kill each other first then all hope will be lost. Get to know your fellow students. We can all be friends.
In closing, I want to issue a challenge to Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins, Steven Drozd and Kliph Scurlock, known collectively as “The Flaming Lips.”
Please come to Western Carolina University and play a show for the student body. I can think of no better way to commemorate the dark events of the last ten years than to have your music to bring our campus together, remind us where we’ve been, and to point us toward a brighter future.
Check out “The Flaming Lips” at www.flaminglips.com.